Research & Innovation
Parents take pride in chubby babies, but a study led by Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, co-director of Boston Children's Hospital's One Step Ahead Program, finds that infants who gain weight rapidly relative to their length during their first six months are more apt to be obese by the time they're 3.
The study mined data from Project Viva, a large ongoing study of pregnant women and their children. Focusing on 559 mother/child pairs, Taveras and colleagues looked at not just weight but weight-for-length, and measured how quickly infants put it on.
The connection between rapid gains in weight-for-length and later obesity was striking, even after adjustment for factors like prematurity and low birth weight. For example, a 6-month-old infant weighing 18.4 pounds would have an estimated 40 percent higher risk of obesity at age 3 than a 16.9-pound infant with the same birth weight.
These findings, published in the April Pediatrics, don't mean that babies should be put on diets, but they do suggest that our cultural affirmation of infants who top the growth charts, and perhaps our notions of appropriate weight gain during pregnancy, may be excessive. "The mounting evidence suggests that infancy may be a critical period during which to prevent childhood obesity and its related consequences," says Taveras.